#16 Villanova Wildcats (11-2) vs. Creighton Bluejays (10-4)
When: Saturday, January 2, 2016, at 10 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
Creighton’s Previous Season Record: 14-19
Key Players for Creighton: #10 Maurice Watson Jr. (5-10, 175) Jr., G; #21 Isaiah Zierden (6-2, 185) Jr., G; #41 Geoffrey Groselle (7-0, 242) Sr., C
Scouting Report: With most of the preseason buzz surrounding transfers Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston University) and Cole Huff (Nevada), and the return of three-point shooter Isaiah Zierden, 7-foot center Geoffrey Groselle has been a pleasant surprise for the Bluejays so far. Before this year, Groselle mainly rode the pine. In his first two years at Creighton, he barely saw any playing time. Last season, he saw in increase in minutes, averaging 12.3 minutes per game. He primarily came in as a high-energy player off the bench and even notched nine starts later in the season, but his production didn’t compare to what it is now. As the full-time starter at center, he leads the team in points, rebounds, and blocks. His 12.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, and 1.6 blocks per game, are double of what he put up just a year ago. He’s an imposing force on both ends of the court, with his big frame helping him down low. What makes him even more fearsome is his efficiency, Groselle is shooting 75.0% on the floor – second-best in the nation and highest in the Big East. In the previous game against St. John’s, where he scored 22 points, he saw his streak of 21 straight made shots end.
As for the players mentioned earlier, Watson Jr., Huff, and Zierden, they’re still special players for the Bluejays. It’s far from being a one-man show. In their first season of eligibility after sitting out last season per transfer rules, Watson Jr. and Huff are the second and third-highest scorers after Groselle. Watson Jr. is averaging 12.8 points per game and has made 49.6% of his shots. He is primarily a slasher when he looks to score. He’s also a solid facilitator, averaging 6.5 assists per game. The other transfer, Huff, is averaging 11.6 points per game and 4.2 boards per game. He is a good free throw shooter, making 78.1% of them. He shot a poor 2-for-11 on the floor against the Johnnies but was 8-for-8 from the free throw line to help him finish with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 boards. As for Zierden, he is a streaky sharpshooter who can either be hot or cold depending on the day. He missed the last few months of last season due to a knee injury. Now that he’s healthy, he’s back on the court. He is shooting just a shade under 40 percent from long range. In fact, he takes over 75% of his shot attempts from beyond the arc.
Also keep an eye out for James Milliken and Toby Hegner coming off the bench. Milliken’s numbers may have dipped a bit since last season, but he is still a good shooter. He hasn’t been taking as many shots as last year, but he is knocking them down from deep at almost the same rate as he did last season (39.0%). Hegner has been limited as of late, missing two games about a couple weeks ago due to injury. He’s slowly worked his way back on to the court. When he’s healthy he can knock them down.
As a whole, this is a much better team than last year. It is definitely not what it was a couple of years ago, but the Bluejays are trending in an upward direction. They still love to shoot threes and do a pretty good job of doing so, although not as good as the Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge days. They are an efficient bunch, shooting 50.3% as a team on the floor – good for 14th best in the nation.
Outlook: The last time Villanova went to the CenturyLink Center, Creighton played the ‘Cats tough. Then a sub-.500 team, the Bluejays took it down to the last minute of the game. The Wildcats capitalized on a mistake by the Bluejays and went on to win by four after a Ryan Arcidiacono and-one.
Just like last season, Villanova will go in as the favorite. In order to avoid a letdown after the big win over #6 Xavier, Daniel Ochefu will be the key. It is imperative that Ochefu controls the paint on the both ends of the floor. He will have his hands full against a slightly bigger and efficient Groselle. Ochefu had a great game against Xavier, scoring 12 points off of 5-for-6 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds. He needs to have a similar game, while keeping Groselle limited to having no impact on the game.
Be prepared for the possibility of a shootout. We have seen the Wildcats get burned before on the three-point line by opposing teams. The difference here is that the Bluejays do not have as good of a defense as those teams. So if the press is broken, Villanova will need to be ready to go guns blazin’. Hopefully Arcidiacono, Phil Booth, Josh Hart, and Kris Jenkins didn’t use up all of that shooting magic already.
Creighton is a pretty unselfish team that loves to move the ball around, maybe getting a hand or two in the passing lanes won’t be a bad thing. Regardless of what happens, Villanova will win this one. It might be close for some time, but I see the Wildcats breaking free at some point. The game should not be as close as it was last year.